Inter modal containers
The means of transport have conventionally been categorised based upon the terrain over which they operate. Ships are used to carry goods over water, railways connect large distances as long as they are connected by land and air-planes, though fly over the oceans and deserts alike, have the greatest handicap of being an expensive mode of transport. What normally runs on the seas seamlessly does not fare well on the railway tracks. The different requirements of geographical terrain can make the business of transportation even more expense than it has to be. The ingenious solution to this bulky, impregnated and inflexible transport paraphernalia was the complete rethinking of the apparatus in the 1950s. The industry changed when the invention of the steel container, now the people realised that whatever the mode of transportation, the ship or the truck or the railway just has to be the engine pulling the cargo and not the primary means of holding and moving it. It was a revolutionary idea for the time because trade had been done for centuries in an inelastic manner whereby the cargo was loaded on a ship at one port, unloaded at another. Then it was loaded onto railway to be carried further inland, where the whole process had to be repeated with trucks. The new approach asked for one container that started from the source and ended at the destination thousands of miles away.
In order for the cargo vessels to fit all modes of transport in different countries, there arose a need for standardisation in the size, structure and architecture of the vessels themselves. Over many a conferences for standardisation of containers, it was agreed that containers would be made from corrugated steel and would have stacking loads at specific locations. This is what made possible the true versatility across the modes of transport. The locking mechanism on a ship was now exactly similar to the one that came fitted with cargo truck. Now, it became possible to shift containers from a ship directly onto land based forms of transport without first unpacking and repacking of the raw materials, goods and other merchandise held within them.
The greatest loss in terms of time occurred when the ships were anchored at ports. It would normally take days, even weeks, to properly locate and identify the cargo that needed to be unloaded. The actual process of unloading was even more encumbered; the cargo consisted of anything from boxes to bushels, from metal sheets to sacks of wheat. Every kind of cargo had to be handled differently and the process of unloading required a keen supervision and a deft manoeuvring so as not to harm the merchandise. The whole enterprise was as much a labour as a waste of time. The whole system was revitalised with the simple coming of age of the inter modal containers. They were a brilliant solution to an age old problem. These huge steel containers could carry anything from minerals to electronics and still maintain the same specifications. They could be carried over the sea and land alike and fitted with all commonly used transport vehicles. No wonder why the exporters are so keen to buy shipping containers Adelaide even today, and they don’t feel like getting obsolete any time soon.
The cubicle design of the cargo container is another lesser appreciated stroke of brilliance. The protruding cargo from a truck or a railway car would be, and actually was for decades, a very real safety threat. Moreover, when the cargo packaging differs in its dimension, it becomes extremely difficult to stack it in some meaningful, space conserving manner. As every one of us has seen on the television at least, the sight of cargo containers stacked one above the other in a large hull of a ship or on port is a majestic sight. The compact design of the steel boxes has saved space aboard the ship, and incidentally, the cost of shipping as well. This is one of the many reasons of acquiring cargo containers.
The invention and the industry standardisation of the shipping container was probably the most vigorous driving force behind globalisation. The cost of transportation and the losses along the way were cut down to only a fraction of what was considered normal before they came along. The trade paradigm was especially changed for good with the introduction of inter modal containers which could be used with different types of transport vehicles and made it possible for the goods to travel thousands of miles across the oceans, the desserts and the urban landscape without having a need to be repackaged.